A new reason why Johan Cruyff missed the 1978 World Cup – fear of kidnap
Dutch ace adds strange tale to an already murky history
Until now, it had widely been assumed that Johan Cruyff, in spite of being the most exciting player in the world at the time, missed the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as a protest against that country’s odious torture-happy dictatorship. Speaking on Catalan radio this morning, however, he revealed that a strange incident in 1978 helped make his mind up.
He said that a number of men broke into his home in Barcelona, where he was playing at the time, threatened him and his wife with shotguns in front of their children and tied them to chairs. His wife, however, managed to escape, as did Cruyff before the clearly incompetent kidnappers were able to get him into their car. He claimed he needed a bodyguard for 18 months after the event, and police protection at matches.
It has always been something of a mystery as to exactly why Cruyff missed the 1978 tournament, with not just the political situation in Argentina, but his own legendarily difficult personality and relations within the national team apparently contributing to the outcome. If it were purely a political decision he could easily have returned to the national side after the World Cup, but he never did.
The story sheds little light on what really happened, as the kidnap event took place in 1978, yet Cruyff had retired from the Dutch team once they had qualified in October 1977. Neither did he appear to know who the kidnappers were or what they wanted. While the events around his self-exclusion from the tournament remain a little sketchy, his absence remains one of football’s great “what-ifs?” Had he played, could Holland have won the World Cup final against Argentina?